The BlackBerry Torch 9850 is one of the handsets that runs the new BlackBerry OS 7 which, as I stated in my review of the BlackBerry Bold 9930, is fine, but not much of a change. It does a good job of integrating the Touchscreen controls and improves the main menu layout in the form of a collapsible list of applications, but other than that it features few notable upgrades.
The device packs a powerful 1.2 GHz Qualcomm 8655 processor and 768 MB of RAM, which makes for slick performance on paper, but in practice things are not quite as smooth. I found that multitasking in any capacity — usually when downloading updates in the background, something I would have thought would only slow down my internet connection — would really gum things up. Simple navigation through the menus would slow down greatly and sometimes even come to a halt all together whenever I was trying to do more than one thing at once.
The 4 GB of onboard storage is a bit disappointing as well, especially in this day and age when some phones come with up to 32 GB of storage in the form of an included microSD card. The Torch 9850 is expandable up 32 GB more storage via a microSD card, but you will have to buy your own.
Calls came through crystal clear on the Torch and I never experienced any dropped calls during my time with it. Connecting to Wi-Fi was painless and I got decent service from both the Sprint and Verizon data networks. However, the speeds of Verizon’s network were considerably better, but that was to be expected.
But the poor network speeds from Sprint compounded the issues with the already-slow BlackBerry OS 7 browser. Though the new operating system’s browser is a vast improvement over past iterations, it’s still a painfully slow experience in the grand scheme of things, especially when using it on Sprint’s network.
What the Torch 9850 and BlackBerry OS 7 lack in browser functionality, they more than make up for in e-mail and messaging capabilities. The phone is great for email and messaging — which is par for the course for BlackBerrys — and all messages (be they texts, chats, emails, voicemails, social networking notifications, etc.) are consolidated to a convenient notification tab on the home screen.
When you receive messages, they are indicated on the tab, informing you of the number and type of unread messages you have. One you tap the notifications tab, all of the unread messages are sorted by type in a drop down menu and are selectable so you can view them in greater detail. It’s good to see that the excellent organization, connectivity, and email experience that is associated with BlackBerrys has not been lost in the transition to OS 7.
And the phone also comes preloaded with a handful of key social networking apps, including Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and a consolidated “Social Feeds” app. That being said, using Facebook on a BlackBerry is still a generally unpleasant experience that lacks many features from the desktop version, but at least the clunky interface is somewhat easier to navigate thanks to the new touch controls. There are also popular messaging apps, including Google Talk, Windows Live Messenger, and Yahoo Messenger. So basically, no matter what services you use for social interaction, the Torch has you covered.
Since BlackBerrys are generally targeted towards the business-oriented folks, they’re usually well equipped for productivity, and the Torch 9850 is no exception. As mentioned, its email capabilities are exceptional, and it’s especially convenient that you can sync it with multiple email addresses, which include both personal and enterprise accounts. The contacts and calendar apps are also well organized and easy to navigate. The device also comes with password keeper and BlackBerry Protect software, which can protect (and even wipe) the device remotely.
And the Sprint version shipped with a nice earbud headset, complete with microphone and volume controls. It’s always nice to have a handsfree option, especially for you business types, who are almost always on the go, right?
As for Office documents, the Torch can handle both editing and viewing of files (including PDFs) thanks to the included DataViz Documents To Go software. That being said, I wouldn’t recommend doing much editing on your Torch; it can be a real chore, especially without a physical QWERTY keyboard.
One of the major downfalls that was carried over to the new OS 7 is the BlackBerry maps software. It is awful, and from what I hear from users that are still on BlackBerry OS 6 or older, this isn’t really a change of pace. One would think that RIM would use this as an opportunity to make the program a little more user-friendly and not so awkward to navigate, but one would apparently be wrong.
As usual, this BlackBerry puts up a weak showing in the entertainment department. But let’s be honest, entertainment isn’t really one of the primary reasons people pick up BlackBerrys. Like the Bold 9930, it only comes with two games (Brick Breaker and Word Mole) and has the standard media suite of music, image, podcast, and video players.
Sprint attempts to tag on a few of its own apps to help boost the entertainment appeal behind the Torch 9850, but, like with many of the apps listed on the main menu, they’re not actually preloaded; they’re just links to download the app. Seeing as there are some decent programs listed — like Sprint Radio, Sprint TV and Movies, and Sprint Football Live — I was ready to go through the trouble of individually downloading and installing each of the apps, and found they work quite well; I thought the football app was especially useful now that the season has started up.
At 5 megapixels, the camera on the Torch 9850 is pretty standard and won’t blow anyone away with its image quality and scene modes, but I do appreciate the inclusion of geo-tagging. I also like that, thanks to Torch’s ability to orient the screen in landscape mode when held sideways, I can hold the phone like an actual camera. It’s a small detail, but it makes taking pictures a little more comfortable than usual with a BlackBerry and it feels more natural.
One other quick side note: despite the camera/convenience key’s two-stage press, it does not function as an auto-focus trigger, which I found odd. I suppose it isn’t really a criticism, as the focus is just handled on its own and prioritizes on whatever you put inside the guide box; I just found it a little unusual. Other phones that have those kinds of camera buttons usually the first press to focus with the secondary press triggering the actual shot.
The battery life I got out of the Verizon Wireless Torch unit was fairly solid, but the Sprint one that I received had a defective battery; its ability to hold a charge degraded over time until it was basically unusable unless plugged into its charger. I’m sure that’s not indicative of the battery quality of all of the units that RIM supplied to Sprint, but it’s still worth noting that the one I received was a lemon.
Assuming the other unit was a better example of the average battery life you will get out of this handset, you will probably be satisfied with the phone’s longevity. I managed to get about two days out of a single charge, during which I made a couple of hour-long phone calls, surfed the Web here and there, texted, kept email on push, and downloaded some apps. Not too shabby. And it recharges relatively quickly, taking about two and a half to three hours to gain a full charge.
But while its battery life impressed me with moderate to heavy usage, I was a little disappointed by how quickly (at least comparatively) the Torch died when it was just resting in standby. At one point, I had roughly half of my battery life left and it died within two days without any other use at all. All other smartphones that I’ve used before barely use up any battery life when in standby, but this thing drains like a tub.
I also find it annoying that when the Torch 9850 officially hits “low battery” status, it automatically shuts off all radios. It’s a setting that cannot be adjusted, and it seems like a pointless function that basically renders the phone useless before it’s even dead. I can see the initial logic behind it, but ultimately it’s counterintuitive. Yes, you’re saving what little battery life you have remaining, but for what? You can’t use your phone for anything at that point.